Nobody covered themselves in glory.
When it comes to their commitment to maintaining sunshine in state government, most Florida lawmakers are in the dark.
That’s the conclusion of the “Sunshine Scorecard,” a rating of every state representative’s and senator’s performance on open-government issues during the 2017 legislative session. The lawmakers received a letter grade from the Florida Society of News Editors based on information supplied by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, primarily their sponsorship and votes on key bills regarding exemptions in open records and meetings laws.
These measures included allowing members of public boards to meet in private; keeping secret the names of candidates for university and college presidents until the very end of the search process; and sealing the criminal records of people charged with felonies and misdemeanors if no charges were filed, if all charges were dismissed before trial, or if the person charged was acquitted.
The grades were discouraging, albeit not surprising, given how the Legislature has continuously eroded the public’s right to know. Just in 2017, the Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded an existing one, then instituted one more exemption during its special session. If Gov. Rick Scott approves all of the 28 new exemptions, the total would be 1,150. Talk about death by a thousand cuts.
Nobody earned an A. The scorecard handed out nine Bs, 71 Cs, 77 Ds and three Fs (under the scoring system, a perfectly neutral legislator would receive a C).
In Holmes and Washington, it looked like this:
Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, for District 5: D-
Sen. George B. Gainer, R-Panama City for District 2: C-
We shouldn't lose track of the fact that, per the grading system, a "perfectly neutral" legislator would rate a C and there were plenty of chances for our legislators to score worse; there were a lot of bad, bad bills out there aiming to turn the light away from public records.
But we also expect better. Northwest Florida has been the site of some landmark cases, and we're not just talking about Gideon. It was The News Herald that successfully fought an expensive battle for access to then-Sen. Dempsey Barron's divorce file in the '80s, arguing it was public record.
It's part of our history of defending public records and we would hope our legislators stand with us.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Panama City News Herald, a sister paper of The Washington County News and Holmes County Times-Advertiser.
Rep. Brad Drake R-Eucheeanna for District 5 D-
Details Sen. George B. Gainer R-Panama City for District 2 C-
Details Rep. Jay Trumbull R-Panama City for District 6 C-